Alaska Marijuana Entrepreneurs Play the Regulatory Waiting Game

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There is a long list of businesses in Alaska applying for marijuana licenses in 2018. And for some of these businesses, the process can’t move fast enough.

According to a May 8 spreadsheet of Alaska marijuana applications, there were about 470 businesses listed as new, initiated, delegated, incomplete and under review. Marijuana Business Daily reported a similar backlog for the state in the previous year.

“The backlog has affected other businesses and friends of ours who are trying to get their businesses licensed and operating,” said Shaun Tacke, CFO of Good Titrations in Fairbanks and treasurer for the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, which formed in 2015. “Many business owners might fail because they are having to pay rent on a spot and can’t operate it until their license is approved or rejected. My business hasn’t been negatively affected as of yet, but it’s not to say that it can’t happen as we have plans to potentially add licenses in the future.”

Mark Springer, chair of the Alaska Marijuana Control Board, which approves license applications for the cultivation, manufacturing, testing, and retail sales of cannabis and marijuana products, said he understands the frustration of some business owners complaining the process is too slow.

“For somebody who’s making this investment, I can understand how it can get very emotional, very stressful,” he said.

At the same time, he said the board, which also enforces the Alaska marijuana statute and writes the regulations, is working with a very small staff that has a responsibility to meet its due diligence.

“It’s a big process for us,” he said. “We’re trying to get it done as quickly as possible and making sure that applicants are doing things correctly. … Our function as the board is to protect the public safety and public health.”

He added that license applications range widely on how long they take to process. As an example, he said one day the board got through 20 licenses. The board can approve a license in 5 minutes if it’s a simple one.

“Or we can take a couple hours if it’s, say, a manufacturing application that has 90 products on it,” he said.

The process involves businesses applying for a license through the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office (AMCO), and then it gets forwarded to the board for consideration.

“I know people wish that the process would go a little faster,” said Springer. “It can’t really move any faster.”

The board meets every two months, and members held a special meeting in early May 2018 to work on the backlogged applications. Springer said that in a few days, they can cover a lot of ground.

“The AMCO office staff and the … board are working as hard as they can to get licenses through the process,” he said. “Nobody’s dragging their feet.”

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Jessica Peralta is a multimedia journalist with experience covering a wide range of topics, including courts and crime, police and fire, health, education and community news for outlets like the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register.

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